“It’s not that I’m hiding away,” insisted Adrien Rabiot on French television last week. “I am available to the club. If I could play, I would. I’ve always been a club man …”
Some in the French capital may beg to differ. Last week, three months after his most recent appearance for Paris Saint-Germain, the elegant midfielder with the trademark frizzy hair was handed a two-week suspension for what PSG described as “major faults” in his conduct – namely being pictured at a nightclub hours after the defeat by Manchester United and ‘liking’ a tweet from Patrice Evra which celebrated the club’s surprise exit. In this era of social media obsession, what greater crime could there be?
Yet, as he has consistently proved since bursting on to the scene under Carlo Ancelotti at Parc des Princes, there is more to Rabiot than meets the eye. His issues at PSG date back to 2014 and Laurent Blanc’s spell in charge, when the young midfielder who spent a few months at Manchester City’s academy as a teenager was on the brink of leaving after being dropped from the squad. Waiting in the car park for Blanc at the club’s Camp des Loges training ground was Rabiot’s mother, Veronique – who has acted as her son’s agent ever since his father, Michel, had a stroke in 2007 that left him almost completely paralysed but fully conscious.
“You can’t do that to him,” Mrs Rabiot told the bewildered coach. “I’m not going to consent to that.”
Within weeks, Rabiot had agreed a new contract to see off interest from Roma and subsequently became one of PSG’s most important players. “My dream is that he might become captain of PSG one day,” said the president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, the following year. “But, he has to respect the club, the coach, and his teammates.”
Despite becoming a regular under Unai Emery Rabiot’s refusal to commit his future by extending his contract last summer left him and his mother at loggerheads with PSG once more, as well as with the French Football Federation. Upon discovering he had been asked to go on standby having been left out of Didier Deschamps’ squad for the 2018 World Cup, he emailed the coach saying he would not “be able to follow the training programme” and instead watched at home as his teammates went on to win the tournament.
Rabiot’s mother is reported to have held talks with several top sides last summer as her son entered the final year of his contract, including Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester City and Manchester United, with Barcelona going as far as submitting an offer. When that was refused by PSG’s sporting director, Antero Henrique, the Rabiots – who are believed to have demanded around €10m a season to consider staying in Paris – went to war.
Rabiot, having started 12 matches in Ligue 1 under Thomas Tuchel despite being dropped along with Kylian Mbappé after the pair turned up late for training, was banished to the reserves in December after reiterating that he would no longer consider signing a new deal and the 23-year-old has not been seen since. His mother – who has been the subject of numerous caricatures in the French press mocking her hold over her son – has complained to the players’ union the UNFP over his treatment, insisting “no one would accept this kind of situation in any French company” and accusing PSG of making an example of him.
“We are a great team because we never doubt each other,” she has said of her relationship with her son. “I don’t get involved in how he plays but he has to speak before the camera and he has to watch some of his language.”
A five-year contract with Barcelona including a €10m (£9m) signing-on fee as well as a salary of just over £170,000 a week is thought to remain on the table, although that has yet to be made official and must have been brought into some doubt after the purchase of Ajax’s Frenkie de Jong. Meanwhile, PSG’s decision to conduct an internal investigation into Rabiot’s conduct in a video of him in the nightclub which emerged online hours after the United defeat and into his faux pas on social media has not been well received by him or his mother, with Khelaifi said to have washed his hands of the former golden boy.
“I find unacceptable the attitude and lack of professionalism of a player like Adrien Rabiot towards the club, his teammates and his supporters,” said Henrique when the suspension was announced. “Remember up to June 30, 2019 he is part of our squad.”
Reports this week again linked United with a move for the outcast of French football, who now looks certain to leave his childhood club having played exactly 150 matches for the first team and winning only six caps for his country so far. Whether he can add to that tally under Deschamps as France embark on their Euro 2020 qualification campaign in Moldova on Friday remains unlikely given that the manager has appeared reluctant to recall such a divisive character into his winning side. Then again, perhaps his mother can have a word.